Community Effort Puts Town and Historic Hotel on the Map
April 26th, 2017 by Jennifer Brown

Former Hollywood producer Deborah Mendelsohn bought and restored the historic Simpson Hotel in the small town of Duncan, Arizona. Above left, the hotel retains the charms of a bygone era and is now a popular bed and breakfast for people traveling through the southeastern part of the state.
Photos by Jeff Paries

Most weekends, the town of Duncan, Arizona—with its 2.2 square miles and a population of roughly 800—sits quietly near the state’s southeastern border.

Spring, however, means it is time for the Javelina Chase Omnium, an annual event for competitive and non-competitive cyclists. The event has grown from 24 participants in 2014 to more than 200 in 2016.

Deborah Mendelsohn is one of 11 volunteers on the Javelina Chase steering committee. As the owner of Simpson Hotel—a bed and breakfast on Main Street, off of Highway 70—she is happy to see growing interest in the annual event, which has helped put both the town and the hotel on the map.

“The Javelina Chase brings many visitors,” Deborah says.

As a result of cycling’s growing popularity in the area, the hotel recently was added to the route map for adventurecycling.com, a global organization that lists preferred routes for the sport.

Getting the hotel building to its current state did not come quickly or easily.

In 1978, the building withstood a flood with up to 9 feet of water and substantial damage. The building’s occupant—Duncan Valley Electric Cooperative—was forced to vacate.

Following the flood, a series of people bought the building and tried to work on it, without much success.

Deborah—a native of Boston—bought the building in January 2006. She spent 12 years in Hollywood as a TV producer and writer before moving to New Mexico, just outside Duncan, in 2005

“It reminded me of a house I grew up in,” she says of the hotel. “I couldn’t resist.”

The building was affordable, but took a lot to restore, Deborah says. She lived in the building through the initial 16-month renovation.

“We had no heat or cooling that first year,” she says. “Indoor temps ranged from the low 30s to 104.”

The walls were covered with fake paneling and the floors with tattered rugs.

The six-room hotel now boasts both original art created by Deborah’s husband, Clayton Jarvis, as well as period and Western pieces found in thrift shops.

A pair of javelina “greeters” made of cast concrete flank the front entrance of the hotel. A sculpture garden, which features a statue of the Virgin of Guadalupe, a large pond and native plants and grasses, is open to the public.

“Guests come from all over,” Deborah says. “Quite a few come to visit family or tend graves. There are lots on bicycles, from the U.S. and Canada, who are touring.”

There is a teardrop trailer on the property where cyclists can stay for free.

Even following significant renovation, a mystery remains under the building’s floorboards: a safe most likely original to the hotel.

“When we did demolition work to the building, we came across a beautiful floor safe in front of the fireplace,” Deborah says.

She called on the co-op as well as locksmiths to try to open the safe, but to no avail.

“We finally gave up and built over it,” she says.

In a place where most residents work at the local copper mine—or for a business that supports the mine—a team effort is needed to make events such as the Javelina Chase a success.

“One thing about this community is how well people work together,” Deborah says. “There is a feeling of linking arms.”

This year’s Javelina Chase is Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7. In addition to the cycling road races, there are fun rides, a timed criterium, a bike rodeo for children, a 5K run/walk for all ages and a Cinco de Mayo celebration.